An article in Sunday's editions about the Central Light Rail Line extension into Pennsylvania Station did not correctly identify the former B & P Railroad as the Baltimore & Potomac.
The Sun regrets the errors.
Denis R. Cournoyer's eyes grew wide as he studied the blueprints before him.
After comparing the draftsman's strokes with a topographic map of Baltimore, he rushed out to a parking lot off Mount Royal Avenue to confirm his worst fears.
FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION
"Holy Mary and Joseph," said the engineer.
What Cournoyer and his staff were being asked to do in spring 1993 was build a connection from Baltimore's Central Light Rail Line to Pennsylvania Station.
That may sound simple. Just lay some railroad tracks a mere one-third of a mile, and it's done.
But the assignment was one of the toughest civil engineering tasks the Mass Transit Administration had faced. Success would require an extraordinary effort.
"This was like threading a needle," said Frank S. Waesche III, Cournoyer's boss and the MTA's director of engineering. "You couldn't have picked a worse place."
The challenge was akin to shepherding a big bull on a circuitous trip through a small china shop. Engineers had to find a way to get across the busy Jones Falls Expressway and swing south toward Penn Station, ducking under Maryland Avenue and being careful not to interfere with Amtrak operations.
MTA officials knew early that the route required an incredibly tight curve and a steep drop to make it into the rail yard.
A 95-foot-long light rail car, a 106,000-pound behemoth, does not turn on a dime or climb steep hills. Yet there aren't a lot of dTC options when you have to avoid a historic 86-year-old railroad tower, an 138,000-volt transformer and a crucial Amtrak switching center that, if disturbed, could halt train service to the entire Northeast.
"The scariest time for the whole project was right there on the drawing board," said Waesche. "Whoa. This was a challenge. It really was."
The Penn Station spur, part of the $106 million expansion of light rail to Hunt Valley and Baltimore-Washington International Airport, required 50 to 60 specialists and consultants, from surveyors to engineers, designers and draftsmen, just to solve its vexing design problems.
The expansion is largely complete. The Hunt Valley extension is to open next month, the Penn Station spur in late October. The latter opening is timed to coincide with the debut of light rail service to the $140 million BWI international terminal, which is expected to be finished and occupied by then.
Yet few, if any, of the estimated 800 rail passengers expected to travel the spur each day will appreciate the Penn Station link as a marvel of problem-solving.
"What the engineers have built is something that will be transparent to the public," said Ronald L. Freeland, the MTA's administrator. "People will never know what difficulties we had to overcome to build that line."
The project was not without compromises. To save money, the (( spur is connected only to the tracks south of Mount Royal Station.
As a result, only northbound light rail cars will be able to pull into Penn Station. And when they leave Penn Station, they will be headed south. Riders heading north have to depart the train at Mount Royal station, cross the tracks and catch a northbound train.
Designers made accommodations for a second set of tracks to connect to points north in the future. Extra-wide bridge piers were installed, for instance, to carry a potential second span over the JFX when needed.
The second floor of the historic railroad tower -- built in 1911 to manage Baltimore & Pennsylvania rail traffic -- had to be dismantled. Its components were numbered, photographed and shipped to Bowie, in Prince George's County, for reassembly as a tourist attraction.
Meanwhile, major construction had to be timed for the summer. Only then would a University of Maryland, Baltimore parking lot be available as a staging area.
"There was always something in the way," Cournoyer said.
What makes the effort more amazing is that Baltimore's light rail expansion is the first federally funded project of its kind in the nation. For the first time, a transit line was built and designed simultaneously, a technique that shortened the project's timetable by six months to a year but pressured designers to work quickly.
"From the beginning, time was ticking away," recalled David G. Mongan, managing partner of Whitney, Bailey, Cox & Magnani, a Towson engineering firm employed by prime contractor
Whiting-Turner Contracting to design all three extensions.
"Penn Station may have been the shortest route we had to do, but it was clearly the biggest technical challenge."
One of the most important early choices was the location and design of a bridge over the JFX. It needed to clear Jones Falls traffic yet not rise so high that light rail cars would face an impossibly steep slope.
"We couldn't lower the JFX," said Mongan. "The physical factors were just a given."